Info on Amazon Reviews

primerToday, I want to talk about Amazon reviews. And this is of importance for both readers and authors.

First, I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who has been supporting, reading and helping us promote Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come. We truly hope you’re enjoying our work. It’s also available for free on Amazon until the end of today (September 16th), a magazine-style release complete with stories and artwork so why not pluck a copy to read later?  Last time I mention Outliers until next month, promise!

Now although we’re loving the promotions and marketing side of this, there’s a point that we could really use outside help.

Amazon uses a number of algorithms and business flows to help decide on what to market, what to suggest and promote in front of other buyers. There are millions of titles in the United States, and even within genres you can easily be talking some tens of thousands of titles.

Who knows what they like better than the readers themselves?

Or at least, those who are vocal about it by submitting reviews to the vendor. Right now, there’s a rumor that 20 reviews, good or ill, “bump” the appearance of a title on suggested reading lists. Another piece of gossip states that 50 reviews puts it among the spotlighted positions of mailing lists.

Now, it’s a safe assumption that these statements are just scuttlebutt. Maybe someone noticed a loose pattern in the advertising and drew these assumptions. Or maybe they were or even are true, although the latter is subject to change. Even the Amazon business guys probably couldn’t comment with certainty because code and formulas are always being tweaked and modified. In tech, what’s true today might not be true tomorrow.

But it’s also a safe assumption that there is some validity to it. Reviews undoubtedly have an effect on advertising suggestions. Feelings of any kind are a more valuable metric than numb silence. Whether you love it like the first season of True Detective or hate it like the second, saying so with reviews matters. So please, if you enjoyed or hated our work, say so. Artists cannot grow in the absence of valid criticisms, nor know what to keep producing without compliments to encourage that which is enjoyed.

Now… there’s one final point to cover, and I must admit that this is a saddening factor for authors: Amazon divides its reviews by region as well.

Some argue that it’s cultural preferences. I disagree, as few seem to care geographically where their entertainment comes from. The United States imports some of the finest actors from England, almost all variations of Sherlock tend to do well and Warhammer 40,000 of Nottingham is very acknowledged here. Likewise, I pal with my English friends knowing that we can quote The Simpsons with abandon or even recruit them into my growing Stranger Things cult.

But the stars from the Amazon.com site aren’t appearing on Amazon.co.uk. If nothing else, people browsing work would see far less in the ratings. Amazon is doing a beta of “the most helpful reviews” on the pages themselves which crosses the ocean (for example, with Far Worlds in the UK), but the results thereof are not being added topically into that region’s ratings.

So.

If you read our work, we love you. If you enjoy it, please say so back. And if you’re really feeling generous, try to log onto both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk to leave reviews on both sites. I believe the login credentials are shared which should make it much easier. And thanks again for reading!

“Business, always business…” -The Greek

Just a reminder that Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come is available for free download. Enjoy our artwork and stories!

Today is my last day at work.

I have a new job lined up on Tuesday of next week, but the next four days are reserved for final edits of five novellas, a host of flash, finishing a short story manuscript, watching the last episodes of Armored Trooper Votoms, morning exercise, completing American Psycho, and just maybe walking the dog too.

Yes. We just published something and now we’re running around to prepare something else for release. What we started is far from finished.

Welcome to life in the fast lane. This blog is probably going on low output for a while… and when it does surface it’ll probably be publishing-business related.

But for you other writers out there, for you fellows working on getting published whether for the first or dozenth time… keep an eye on Outliers. Because this story is going to get big. Bigger than you’d believe. And sooner or later the doors maybe opening for submissions…

Stayed tuned and read on.

Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come

Outliers Primer CoverLadies and gentlemen, I could not be more proud to announce the release of Outliers: The Shape of Things to Come, a free chapbook we’re giving away to promote our forthcoming book series, Outliers.  The chapbook contains four short stories and immersive flash fiction, with character profiles and artwork by the amazing Manuel Mesones. And you can enjoy all of it for nothing.

So here’s the deal. It’s available for free on SmashWords and via DropBox. Amazon is forcing us to charge for it. So next week, we’re going to move to Kindle Select and Unlimited to see if we can promote it for free from there. But for the mean time, try one of the other sites and if you WANT to pay on Amazon, we’ll accept.

But more than money, the best ways to support us are to leave a review on Amazon (you don’t have to have purchased through them) and GoodReads. Also, you can help by following either @TbirdStudios or @OutliersSaga on Twitter or the Outliers Facebook page.

Amazon (mobi/azw4)

SmashWords (epub)

DropBox (Hi-Res PDFRegular-Res PDFmobi)

 

LitOps: Authorial Cross-Discipline

Outliers Primer Cover

Announcement: Join our Facebook event for the launch of our free chapbook set in the Outliers universe, available September 6th!

This post is about writing. Just bear with me a moment…

In 1776, a Scotsman by the name of Adam Smith published a book entitled The Wealth of Nations. As his work defined early capitalism, one of his largest concerns was how labor (particularly manufacturing-based) risked learning skills and tasks that were too specialized to acknowledge the greater whole of the process.

Fast forward to 2016 and in some fields we have the exact opposite problem: we’re asked to do almost too much.

If you ask me about my day job, my usual response is that I’m a developer. In truth, the term for my field is DevOps (Development Operations), a cross-discipline that consists of various kinds of programming, networking, and database administrations. I create interactive webpages, set up the end points that they pass on their way to the databases, plural. Sometimes I triage network or server performance issues, sometimes I connect to remote servers for deployments. Name just about any technical difficulty and I’ve either dealt with it or were somehow involved in the resolution thereof. Being a developer these days involves a great deal of skills and knowledge.

Being a litterateur (writer) is rather similar.

I suppose you can call it LitOps, literary operations. But whether it’s a truly self-published author or an independent press trying to get booted, there are many hats to wear. Aside from writing and editing manuscripts, there’s formatting (more complex these days due to print versus e-reader files such as mobi, pdf and epub). There’s cover art, which not only includes the illustrated or graphic front but measurements for the spine and the back cover. And all of this grows more complex with any experimental introductions, such as adding illustrations or e-book linking.

I’ve never tried a “choose your own adventure” book with hyperlinks but I suspect that would be technically interesting…

Outside of production there’s marketing; setting up promotions, contacting critics for reviews, author signings, online advertising and anything else that can influence readers. Sales can be automated online, but at conventions there is a need to ship or transport the goods, prepare the table, handle direct sales, and then break all that down after. And then there’s managing public relations. Aside from face-to-face, people often ask questions on Facebook or Twitter and they’re probably going to want to be answered in a professional manner.

And there’s even a legal side. At its simplest, a publisher has to deal with the terms of service with his/her distributors. If publishing third parties, there has to be written agreements regarding how rights and royalties are handled. If you work with other creators, there are franchise agreements too. I’ve signed and worked on franchised works include Stoic Studio’s The Banner Saga game series (The Gift of Hadrborg‘s print version is coming soon) and now my company’s forthcoming Outliers universe.

I suspect that if you’re an up-and-coming writer, you’re probably reading all this and saying “No, no I don’t want to deal with any of this!” Well, the old ways aren’t dead. There are still the successful and established publishing companies out there that can afford to have its employees and contractors specialize. A friend of mine mentioned how great it is to work for one of these: all he does is write and answer questions regarding editing, and occasionally attend a few signings.

But the hard truth is that many of those established, profitable publishers truly want established, profitable authors. Sometimes an author will “make it,” and get paid a professional’s salary. But unless they keep at it and find their audience, there’s little staying power. How often does a short story ever take a person to the top?  How often is an author’s debut novel the pinnacle of their bibliography? Examples exist, but it’s like that one school kid who becomes a professional athlete; exceedingly rare compared to the size of the field.

Learn. Grow. Expand. We all want to write, but never be afraid of kaizen. Sometimes that means doing things you don’t want to do, but someone has to. And no one is going to care more about your work than you. Learn the business, because knowing is powerful in its own right.

This is what it means to be an author these days.  And it is better to embrace the change until it affords one a better opportunity than to assume that the opportunity is ever coming.

Outliers: Facebook Launch Party

Outliers

Progress has often been measured by the advancement of technology and sciences. that which aides humanity’s ability to survive. But humanity itself has remained the constant. 

Until now.

They are anomalies. The gifted and the pariahs, the blessed and the cursed. Capable of reading minds, transforming their bodies or controlling forms of energy. They are Outliers. And as their numbers explode, modern civilization will be put to the crucible against the unexpectedly transhuman.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to invite you all to the free release launch party for the Outliers Saga. We’re giving away an e-chapbook, containing four short stories, character profiles and flash fiction, with artwork by the amazing Manuel Mesones.

This is a Facebook event, not a physical one, meaning there’s no need to show up anywhere. And be sure to follow Outliers on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Stranger Things Season 1 Review

Stranger thingsUntil indicated, this review is spoiler free. If you’ve seen it, skip below for analysis.

No one saw it coming. No one. Like an alien invasion or a paranormal event, Stranger Things is a bolt of 80’s goodness out of the blue.

On a cold night in November of 1983, young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears in his hometown of Hawkins, Indiana. As the search gradually begins, spearheaded by the haunted Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) has strange revelations as to the whereabouts of her missing son. Her antics grate and worry her eldest child Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) who starts his own investigation, eventually crossing paths with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and plain crossing her new boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery).

Meanwhile, Will’s friends Lucas, Dustin and Nancy’s brother Mike (Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Finn Wolfhard respectively) decide to buck the rules and search for their missing chum despite the danger. Instead they find a strange girl in the worlds named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and are pulled into a far greater mystery that is part man-made, and part not…

There are absolutely no limits to the 80’s references in the show. Showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer gently borrowed ideas and hints from a myriad of movies and shows, or even just used toys and games of the era. These ranged from hints of Aliens to Stand By Me, The Goonies, E.T.A Nightmare on Elm Street and It (although that was released in 1990), to impressions of Yoda. Yet despite the reliance on nostalgia the show stands on its own, entertaining whether or not the audience is familiar with these titles.

AlphabetThat last point raises a critical question about whether or not the show is suitable for younger children. The show’s heroes range from adults to teenagers to kids, pulling in audience from all age groups, giving appeal for the whole family. But although most of the violence happens off screen and the gore is subdued, some of the scarier elements risks nightmares for the youngest. This is especially true during the mesmerizing finale.

That said, Stranger Things is the engine of fan conversion. The perfect blend of science fiction and horror, carefully balanced between concerned and aware adults as well as a group of lovable children. No one is immune to the charm of Lucas, Mike and especially Dustin who all flip from their goofiness to concern just as real kids do. And although Stranger Things is a quintessential homage of the best of a decade, the show is a phenomenon no one can, or should, resist.

Analysis and spoilers follow from here on. 

Continue reading

Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 1 Review

 

Voltron

For some reason, no one could nail a solid reboot of the original Voltron: Defender of the Universe.

There were attempts before, and my understanding is that they’ve been lackluster. Strange, because the original show adhered to a relatively simple premise; a group of space explorers for the Galaxy Alliance are captured by the Drule Empire and taken to Planet Doom. After escaping, they make their way to Planet Arus where Princess Allura helps them discover five legendary robotic lions. These assemble into Voltron, who defends the planet from King Zarkon.

The American version of the original series stuck to a formulaic approach. After the movie-long introduction of Voltron and the team, each episode resulted in the appearance of a huge robeast (robotic beast) who would then perish to Voltron’s sword. Occasionally the team would face a real problem, such as one of the team being injured or some espionage that prevented forming the eponymous hero. Other times actual changes to the plot would drive events, such as the introduction of Prince Lotor, or the transformation of Commander Yurak into a robeast followed shortly thereafter by his legitimate death.

But the original Voltron did have a huge impact on other media and pop culture in general. Gestalt combinations of robots were integrated into the Transformers series, and there’s no doubt where the concept of Power Rangers came from. And to this day, the phrase “And I’ll form the head!” can still invoke laughter from those in the know.

All of this is why Netflix and DreamWorks Animation’s new series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, shocked and awed by possessing a forward-thinking story, subplots, great character development and solutions that don’t always revolve around slashing kaiju in half. And as if it being green-lit for season 2 wasn’t awesome enough, we’ll be getting it this year.

This review will avoid spoilers, but the same cannot be said of the links. Click with caution.

Voltron TeamThe show opens with the abduction of Shiro (a re-envisioned Sven) and his research team during first contact with the alien Galra Empire. A year later, Galaxy Garrison space cadets (in both rank and metaphor) Hunk, Pidge and Lance prove themselves a crew in need of cohesion.

But just as Pidge lets on that he knows more about the events of the universe than they’re being told, the trio go to investigate an incoming distress call. The emergency proves to be an escaped Shiro, who the Garrison is about to take in custody and quarantine. With the help of training washed out Keith the five escape the garrison forces. Combining their knowledge, they are eventually led to the hiding place of the blue lion who auto-pilots them to Planet Altea. There, a desperate Princess Allura and Coran instruct them in reassembling Voltron.

If this synopsis of the first episode sounds a little rushed, that’s because it is. The first is also the longest of the series; almost 70 minutes compared to the ten 23 minute episodes that follow. The pacing is relying on the viewers wanting to cut to the meat of series rather than worry about minor details, like how Princess Allura happens to speak the same language as the earthling team. Or the Galrans too for that.

GalraBut it’s the following episodes when the show really begins to shine. Unlike the original series, the Voltron force doesn’t stick around to play some ridiculously prolonged defensive campaign. The Castle of Lions is actually a modified spaceship that is grounded, and the team intend to embark on a perhaps decade-long guerrilla campaign to free the galaxy from Galran control.

And this is no small task. In the opening episode(s), it is revealed that the Galran empire is a huge sum of galactic space but has yet to come into regular contact with humanity. The showrunners actually treat the empire realistically too, with infrastructural concerns like refueling stations for their fleets, production and mining facilities— economic considerations light years ahead of what Defenders of the Universe ever pondered. The ten episodes barely scratched the surface and yet they’re off to a bang-up start.

But more than the “evil empire” trope, all of this is unexplored territory for a bunch of earthlings who have never been outside human-controlled space before. Although how they overcame language barriers isn’t explained, there is plenty of culture clash. Hunk learns the hard way what the Alteans consider food, Pidge questions their concept of time and there are many alien races out there to meet. And if culture is the “little stuff,” then there are bigger discoveries out there such as the colossal Balmera, which not only add to the depth of the universe but also serve as interest story elements in and of themselves.

HunkGoofiness seems to be the most defining characteristic of much of the cast. Compared to his Defender of the Universe bonhomme counterpart, Coran is almost over-the-top with ridiculousness. This is strange when mixed with his otherwise traditionalist views and position as the show’s lore-keeper. Much of the team is prone to rib-poking too, particularly at the expensive of good-natured Hunk. There’s a few times when the humor risks being ill-placed, especially in the first episode. But the rest of the series tempers itself to know when to crack a smile and when to hold off.

But unlike the original series, showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery proved willing to build on both the heroes and villains, and found subtle ways to indicate a willingness to lose them as well. For the pilots, the two biggest changes have been Pidge and Shiro. The latter was given a great backstory with forward-moving motivation, while the former slowly unravels the mysteries of what happened to him during his abduction. Lance and Keith primarily provide rivalry and personalities this season, while Hunk becomes more personally involved in one mission the team undertakes. Even Voltron itself gets more of a backstory.

Then there are the villains. Except for a degree more litheness than the past, Space Witch Haggar is relatively untouched in role and menace. Her services to Emperor (a welcome promotion from “King”) Zarkon are the same; advising and creating new technologies and robeasts. For fear of spoilers, the changes to Zarkon himself will not be addressed. Still, these alterations exemplify the ethos of the show to rarely come out and say something. Rather, Voltron: Legendary Defender prefers to show the audience the pieces and allow the mystery to reveal itself on its own time in a rather organic manner.

But it’s Princess Allura who received the most revisions. The prior series cast her initially as something of a damsel in distress who eventually steps up to the plate to become a lion pilot. This time, she and Coran are in charge of the ship, and she takes a commander’s role to Shiro’s captaincy. She also reveals that Alteans are not space humans and, perhaps in the biggest piece of foreshadowing, suffers a personal loss half way through the series.

Voltron GangThis loss was of a cornerstone element of Defender of the Universe. While not really a “death,” this event may subtly indicate that DreamWorks is willingly to write permanent changes to the course of the plot. As Sven (Shiro) was killed early int he original Japanese series, it is not impossible that other deaths may follow. Time will tell how much everyone’s favorite robot show has matured.

Whether you’re a fan of 80’s nostalgia, good anime or just something family friendly, check out Voltron: Legendary Defender before the start of the second season later this year.